Jesus and the Sheep

The innocent always suffer. It was 1943; and Great Britain was in the midst of a terrible war, a war they feared they could lose.  But war had not yet reached a tiny remote, uninhabited island off the west coast of Scotland, until it did in a big way. On this day, a group of soldiers brought 80 sheep to the island. But they weren’t actually soldiers, they were scientists. And they had come to this island on a secret, deadly mission. They wanted to see if their anthrax bombs were as lethal as they believed. If they were, the next step was to drop anthrax on German cities. The scientists were wearing cloth overalls, rubber gloves, and gas masks; but that hardly seemed like enough protection. They launched the anthrax by mortar and watched the effects. At first, the sheep showed no signs of infection; but when they did,

Jesus and Justice

Okay, I lied. I gave Columbus the benefit of the doubt in my last post saying it was more likely that Columbus was simply bad at math and not a swindler. Having now read more of the Columbus story, I need to retract that statement. Plain and simple, it is far more likely that Columbus was a crook. If that is too strong, then let me just say, he was a horrible human being.  Consider the evidence. He was a terrible sea captain (half of his voyages ended in dismal failure). He was notoriously cruel (natives who did not bring in a sufficient amount of gold would have their hands cut off). He trafficked in slaves. He and his crew spread disease which almost eradicated the entire Taino population (how do you spell “genocide”?). As governor, he was both utterly corrupt and tyrannical (as a result of his thieving and

Dreaming During the Day

Honestly, the only thing I admire about Christopher Columbus is that he was bad at math. Of all the deficiencies in one’s education, being bad at math is the only one that doesn’t count. For example, Paul Harvey may not have been a great mathematician, but he still was extremely wise. It was Harvey who gave us this truism and tell me you don’t agree with it: "If there is a 50-50 chance that something can go wrong, then 9 times out of 10, it will." Amen and amen. Back to my point: in the 1400’s, navigation depended upon a lot of guesswork. This was primarily because no one knew the circumference of the earth or how to measure latitude. But there were theories. The first theory came from the Greeks. It utilized the Roman mile (roughly 1.47 kilometers). The second theory came from Arabic scholars. Unsurprisingly, it also utilized

Defining “Holy Guacamole”

I’m not sure where I first heard this story, but it was love at first sight (hearing? reading? whatever!). In 1962, Congresswoman Clare Booth Luce walked into the oval office.  She had been thinking for a long time of what she wanted to communicate to then President John F. Kennedy, and she finally had it.  She walked into his office and said: “A great man is one sentence.” And then, she dropped the bomb: “So, what is your sentence?” Luce feared that Kennedy was trying to do too much, that he had too many priorities and too little focus.  He didn’t have a sentence.  He had a cluttered paragraph. Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, had a sentence.  It was: “He preserved the union and freed the slaves.” Franklin Roosevelt’s sentence was, “He lifted us out of a great depression and helped us win a world war.”  Luce’s question was

Following Hints (more or less)

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “It means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”  I love it. Someday, I am going to read the whole Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland book. I missed it the first 50 plus years of my life, but one of these days I am going to get to it. And, why, you may ask? Because I am “curiouser and curiouser” about who gets to define words. Now, I’m not worried about who gets to define the word, “Christian.” I think Jesus ought to be the master of that one. Hence, when he says, “a Christian is someone who follows him,” that settles it for me. However, the word

To Plagiarize or Not to Plagiarize

Let’s start off today with some thoughts (and these are thoughts that I personally have thought and no one else has ever thought before). And because I know these thoughts will be a big hit once they get out in the public, I’ve even put my thoughts in a form for easy quoting. Behold my thoughts. . . . A plagiarist should be made to copy the author a hundred times. Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal. The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. Anticipatory plagiarism occurs when someone steals your original idea and publishes it a hundred years before you were born. All work and no plagiarism make for dull sermons! Okay, so maybe these weren’t quite my own thoughts. As Jonathan Swift once wrote: “Fine words! I wonder where you stole them.”  So, time to come clean. I stole them. The first quote is

Thinking about Definitions

Jean-Jacques Rousseau said: “Definitions would be good things if we did not use words to make them.” I couldn’t agree more. But this whole series is about coming up with a definition; and if we can’t use words, it is going to be a very short series. But maybe it would be helpful to think about the whole art of defining words because I would like to contend it is not as easy as we often think. To this end, I offer this script. Some of you may have seen this before (some of you may have even been readers before!). As an apology for making you read a script, instead of reading a narrative, I offer this insight: Shakespeare wrote in scripts. So, friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your eyes, for what light through yonder window breaks? It is a script!  Now, to read or not to read, that

Knowing God’s Will for You

Ask any military expert: knowing when to attack is of vital importance. The ancient Romans knew this; and that is why, before any battle, they inquired of the chickens. You read that right. To discern whether or not they should execute their battle plan, the Romans asked . . . some chickens. But not just some ordinary chickens. They asked the sacred chickens. According to Roman religious practices, the will of the gods regarding an upcoming battle could be discerned by simply offering grain to a handful of sacred chickens. If the chickens ate the grain, it was a sign from the gods that conditions were favorable and that victory was nearly assured. However, if the chickens refused to eat, it was a warning that they should postpone fighting to another day. On the morning of the Battle of Drepana (that’s right, the one in 249 BC), the Roman naval

I Wouldn’t Want That Job has a list of the 50 worst jobs in America. To prove that their list is scientifically accurate and not just a list of jobs they personally would hate to have, they developed the “Misery Score.” The Misery Score combines four factors: job meaning, median income, job satisfaction and projected job growth. For some unknown reason, they believe that a job with no existential meaning, low pay, no satisfaction and low hope of advancement equals misery. As a result, they rank the worst five jobs as the following: #5 – Lathe and turning machine tool setters (I’m not sure this is accurate. I’ve known many immigrants from Ireland who love this job and are perfectly content in it. After all, have you ever met an unhappy Irish Setter?) #4 – Dry Cleaning (I’m not sure what would cause this job to be so high on the misery scale unless it

The Price of Secrecy

On April 28, 1944, an armada of US warships were approaching Slapton Sands (Slapton Sands is a beautiful beach area off the southwest coast of England). These ships were part of a dress rehearsal for the upcoming D-Day invasion of Normandy. And it was a serious rehearsal. 300 ships were involved and over 30,000 men. Previous mock invasions on these very shores had been utter failures, and so it was crucial for this training exercise to go off without a hitch. But that was not going to happen. Shortly after 2 am, while the ships were awaiting the signal to “invade,” a German torpedo-boat squadron stumbled upon the flotilla and opened fire. Three of our ships were hit and sunk almost immediately. Oil and gas spilled out into the water and erupted in flames. Survivors jumped into the icy water and were forced to swim around or under the oil

Painting a Portrait of Authenticity

A man has to do what a man has to do; and when a man finds an Alfred Hitchcock marathon on TCM, a man has to watch every single movie. If you don’t understand that, I can’t help you. It’s a man thing. You’ll need to check your copy of Wild at Heart to see exactly how, but it is. And so, because it was my manly duty to invest myself in these movies, I did. I watched Rear Window, Strangers on a Train, Psycho, Dial M for Murder, Rope and many others. You ask me how I watched so many movies, and I will tell you. Hitchcock is a genius. Why do I say that? Because Hitchcock believed, “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” See, all things are possible to them who relieve. (OK, truth is, I actually DVR’ed

One Last Prayer (or Two)

How do you enlist people to pray? Simple: You make them a great offer. For instance, you tell people, “Short prayers are better than long prayers.” Now, that is a great offer. But often, great offers don’t turn out too great. After the Romans were defeated by Hannibal’s army at Cannae (216 BC, but I’m sure you already knew that), Roman army recruiters found it difficult to enlist potential soldiers. Apparently, men were hesitant to join a losing army. And so, the marketing division of the Roman army put their heads together and came up with an innovative plan. They promised any slave who enlisted in the army and then, in battle, brought back the head of an enemy soldier would be granted their freedom.  It was a great incentive, and it worked like a charm. Thousands of slaves joined the cause for a chance at emancipation.  But while the

Praying Your Own Prayer

A penny dropped from the top of the Empire State Building will kill you. Not true. It may sting for a second or two, but it will absolutely not kill you. However, a piano falling all that way is a different story. The Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from space. Again, not true. It may be long, but it is neither incredibly high nor wide. The fact is, there are days in Beijing when the pollution is so bad you can’t even see the Great Wall from across the street! It takes a person seven to ten years to digest gum that is swallowed. If you buy that, you will swallow anything because this also is not true. We talk about words going in one ear and out the other; it is the same principle here. But in this case, that other ear … is

A Prayer for Joy

“To err is human, but to arrr is pirate.” This is a story of both of err and arrr.  When Julius Caesar was a young man, he was captured by pirates and held for ransom (it was an err that the arrrs would regret). The pirates, being pirates, were not so bright and set the ransom at 20 talents. Caesar was horrified. How dare these pirates set such a price for his liberation. It most certainly had to be in err. A talent was roughly the equivalent of the salary a laborer could make in nine years. Caesar was beside himself, not because he feared, at that price, he would never be redeemed, but that the ransom was way too low for someone of his rank and status. In fact, the ransom was embarrassing. And so, Caesar demanded that the pirates (arrr) increase his ransom to a more fitting fifty

A Prayer Filled with Reminders of God

Apparently, Alexander the Great wasn’t so great when it came to art.  An ancient historian (Claudius Aelianus) tells the story of Alexander viewing a painting done in his honor. The painting featured Alexander sitting on his favorite horse. It was a bold portrait done by a master named Apelles. And yet, Alexander was not overly impressed. It failed to move him, and he only gave it faint praise. The artist was not pleased. To prove the painting’s realism and value, he brought a horse into the atrium; and when it saw the paining, it neighed, believing that the horse on the canvas was real. “King,” said Apelles, “this horse seems to understand the painting much better than you.” I often feel like I have very little understanding and appreciation of prayer and that most of my prayers are, in reality, just horsing around. There is an art in praying, but

A Prayer with a Request

Milo of Croton was incredibly strong. He was a wrestler by profession and was well-celebrated by his Greek fans for his fearlessness, strength and his acumen in the ring. Outside the ring, however, he was not so bright.  One day in the 6th century BCE, Milo decided to go for a stroll in the forest. He was enjoying the fresh air and the solitude, but then he spotted something that just called his name. It was a tree, tall and strong. But this one was being split. At some point not too long ago, a lumberjack had tried to split the tree while it was still standing (I was taught that, first, you fell the tree, then you split the tree; but this lumberjack was trying to skip a step). But all this logger accomplished was to get his wedges buried deep in the tree. Yes, it was partly split,

A Prayer and an Address

Fireflies. I love them. I love seeing them light up in the dark as they flitter around in my backyard. But here’s some troubling news.  Fireflies are misnamed. No matter what we say, fireflies are not flies. They are beetles. But I promise you, even if fireflies did nothing different and were just as enlightening and sweet as they are now, but we had to call them firebeetles, I would hate them with a passion. And while we are at it, Koala bears are not bears; they are marsupials. Now, I don’t care if they misnamed the Koala because of marketing; it is misleading. I would suggest that we throw whoever is responsible for this misrepresentation to some grizzlies so he (or she) can know what a true bear looks like. And let’s talk desserts. I don’t care what they say. Boston cream pie is definitely a cake, and cheesecake

A Prayer for a Proper Diagnosis

Suppose you lived in the ancient world and were suffering from a toothache. With no local dentists nearby, you had to find another health-care solution (and even if there was another option, you don’t want to know what people were doing to bring relief to toothaches back then!). Enter the doctrine of “signatures”! When suffering from a particular ailment, it was thought that the solution would often look like the problem. That’s right, it was believed that God, in creating the world, gave us hints as to what curative effect each plant or herb had by shaping said plant so that it looked like the human organ it was made to heal. So, if you have a problem with your brain (and who doesn’t?) or needed a little brain boost before taking your SAT’s, the best thing you could eat is walnuts because the meat of the walnut looks like

A Prayer with All the Fixings

Let’s fix time. I’ve told you this story before; but I think it is a hoot, so, you get to hear it again. One day, Julius Caesar decided he had to fix the calendar. Before his time, all calendars were based on the lunar cycle. But the lunar calendar was 11 days shorter than a solar calendar. In an attempt to fix things, the time police mandated the addition of an extra leap month to the calendar at the end of every three years.  Suffice it to say, that it wasn’t long before Julius Caesar had enough of those sort of time shenanigans and decided that the time was right for a completely new calendar, one that was based solely on the sun. The result of this Julian calendar was that the year was now comprised of 365 ¼ days and would start in January and not in March. (March

A Prayer for Grace and Protection

Angela Carter said, “Comedy is a tragedy that happens to other people.” That truism is wonderfully illustrated by the story of Aeschylus (525-456 BC). Aeschylus was a famous Greek playwright who wrote more than 70 plays, but tragically, only 7 have survived. He is known in dramatic circles as the “father of tragedy.” But tragically, that is not why I remember him. I remember him because he died a tragic death that may also be perceived as rather funny. Pliny the Elder was also a famous author (although he was Roman and not Greek).  Pliny wrote an encyclopedia-like work of scientific discoveries that we now know as pure bunk, but contained such famous quotes as “Fortune favors the brave,” and “The only certainty is that nothing is certain,” and “Home is where the heart is.” It also contained the sad tale of the death of Aeschylus.  The tale recounts how

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